Maha-Ukkusa Jataka (#486)

temple painting of Maha-Ukkusa Jataka

The Bodhisatta was once a lion. He lived on the north shore of a lake. Two hawks, one male and one female, lived on the south and west shores, and the male hawk asked the she-hawk to be his wife. First, she wanted to know if he had any friends. When he answered no, she told him a good husband must have friends to defend against any dangers that arise, and she would only marry him if he befriended the osprey that lived on the lake’s east shore, the turtle that dwelt on a small island, and the Bodhisatta. And so he did. Then the hawks built a nest in a tree on a small island and had two young sons.

One day some villagers were out hunting and they stopped on the hawks’ island. The men built a smoky fire for some relief from gnats and mosquitoes, and the smoke also irritated the fledgling hawks, who could not yet fly. The men heard these birds’ cries and started building a proper fire so they could cook and eat them.

The she-hawk sent her mate to get help from the osprey. The osprey dove into the lake and sprinkled water from his wings to douse the fire. The men, who were climbing the tree to get the birds when the osprey arrived, came down without them. They built another fire, and when they started climbing again, the osprey returned with more water. Again and again, the osprey doused their fire, and the men came down the tree empty-handed to light it anew.

By midnight, the osprey grew weak and thin, so the she-hawk sent her mate to get the turtle. Hearing their predicament, he agreed to come, but his son told his father he would go save the hawks instead. He dove into the lakebed, took some mud to the island, and quenched the flames with it. The men decided to eat the turtle instead and tied it up with vines and strips of fabric torn from their clothes. But the turtle was so strong it dove into the water, pulling the men in with them.

The men scrambled back to the island and decided to sleep, then catch the young hawks in the morning. This time the she-hawk sent her mate to ask the Bodhisatta for help, and he said he would kill the hunters. They saw the Bodhisatta swimming toward them and fled.

The osprey, turtle, and hawks all joined the Bodhisatta on the island to celebrate their victory. The Bodhisatta spoke to them about the value of friendship and told them to never break its bonds; and for the rest of their lives, none of them ever did.

In the Lifetime of the Buddha

The hawks were earlier births of a poor man and woman. When he proposed to her, she wanted to know if he had any friends that would help them in times of need. He had none, so she told him to come back after making some. The man began by striking a friendship with the city’s four gatekeepers. He then went on to successively befriend town guards, astrologers, nobles of the royal court, the commander-in-chief, the viceroy, and eventually through these others, the king. The man then became close to the Buddha’s eighty chief elders, and finally the Buddha himself.

Now known as the “man of many friends,” he wed the wise young woman, and they received many gifts from the king on down. On the seventh day, they invited the Buddha and five hundred disciples to their home and offered them great gifts. The Buddha thanked them and gave a sermon, after which the couple had a breakthrough in understanding dharma.

Later, when the Buddha heard some of his disciples discussing what great things resulted from the husband following the wife’s advice, the Buddha told them this story so they knew that it was not the first time they benefited from this woman telling her husband to make friends.

The father and son turtles were earlier births of Moggallana, one of the Buddha’s top disciples, and the Buddha’s son. The osprey was an earlier birth of Sariputta, another of the Buddha’s top disciples.

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